The Mocs are exceeding expectations.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team is on a six-game winning streak and sits atop the Southern Conference standings after holding on to edge Wofford 70-69 Saturday night in McKenzie Arena.
"This is my third year here and this is the best record we've had since I've been here, and the best team we've had as well," senior captain Zaccheus Mason said. "It feels good to be No. 1 in the conference and having a winning streak going.
Sophomore Casey Jones set a career high with 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Mason added 17 points and seven rebounds, which ended his streak of consecutive double-doubles at six. Junior Ronrico White added 15 points for the Mocs (10-8, 4-0), who were the preseason pick to finish seventh in the SoCon.
"I've been at Wofford for 25 years, but if I ever went anywhere else I'd like to think I could walk in with a Ronrico White, a Z. Mason and a Casey Jones," Wofford coach Mike Young said. "Those three kids were certainly good for Chattanooga tonight.
"At the end, it was a really good college basketball game and they got the better of us."
The Terriers (7-9, 2-2) were led by 20 points from Karl Cochran, who almost won the game for them.
With UTC leading by one with 6.1 seconds to go, sophomore Gee McGhee missed two free throws. Cochran received a pass at midcourt and raced directly to the rim. He attempted a finger-roll that missed and collided with UTC freshman Greg Pryor.
The official called a charge.
The Mocs won by one.
"I couldn't control my [excitement]," Jones said. "Greg, man. That was a huge play, the biggest since I've been in Chattanooga."
It's just one more way the Mocs have found to win games. None of the six straight wins have been by more than 10 points, and each was in question with 10 minutes to play.
"I thought we played really well for a vast majority of the second half, but we got a little loose in the last three minutes," UTC coach Will Wade said. "That was our fourth game in seven days. That's a tough spot the conference puts you in.
"It's tough to gut one out like that. It wasn't pretty. It never is."
There were five ties and two lead changes in the first half. Wofford led by three about five minutes into the game, and UTC's largest lead of the first half came on a White score that made it 24-18.
Mason sat for the final nine minutes of the opening half after he picked up his second foul on a charging call, forcing Wade to play Martynas Bareika and Lance Stokes at the post positions.
McGhee missed a difficult layup at the horn, sending the teams into halftime with the Mocs ahead 28-24 after 20 minutes of playing a pace that Wofford prefers.
The Mocs increased the tempo in the second half. UTC scored 42 points after the break and Wofford scored 45 while playing more to UTC's liking.
"If it was a 56-52 game, I think we would have won that, too," Wade said. "We have a way about us where we can find a way. We're developing a toughness about us."
UTC's largest lead Saturday was 11 points on two occasions in the second half. A steal and a layup by Jones put the Mocs ahead 61-50 with 5:51 to go.
Wofford gave itself a chance to win by scoring on eight of nine possessions before Cochran charged into Pryor. The Terriers helped themselves by stealing two inbound passes in the final 13 seconds.
"Part of it was my fault. All of it is my fault," Wade said. "I had guys in positions where they're not during practice.
"Luckily the guys bailed me out."
And they're sitting in first place.
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP